Get Adobe Flash player

Write On

Behind the “Best Screenplay” Awards

Photo: Ken Goodman

Letty Aronson accepts Woody Allen's WGA Award for Best Original Screenplay. Photo: Ken Goodman

Is a WGA Award a true predictor of Oscar gold? That was certainly the case this year, as both the WGA and AMPAS chose The Descendants and Midnight in Paris as respective winners in their Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay categories. (This year’s only noticeable difference, it turns out, was but one of presentation: at the Writers Guild Awards, Letty Aronson, producer of Midnight in Paris and Woody Allen’s sister, was allowed onstage to accept Allen’s statuette.) But pomp and circumstance aside, The Descendants’ and Midnight in Paris’ 2012 WGA-Oscar “doubles” illustrate a growing convergence in awards-season decisions between WGA and the Academy.

Indeed, 2012 marked the sixth time in the last eight years that both WGA and the Academy opted to honor the same writers for Best Adapted and Best Original Screenplays.

With two exceptions–in 2011, when the Academy chose The King’s Speech over WGA Award­-winner Inception for Best Original Screenplay; and in 2010, when the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay went to Precious after the WGA Award had gone to Up in the Air—recent history of the two Best Screenplay awards has been noteworthy for Guild-Oscar synergy. From 2005 to 2009, the WGA and Academy agreed on their Best Original and Best Adapted Screenplay winners every year.

Before the beginning of that streak, however, the WGA and the Academy had demonstrated across-the-board agreement only five times since 1985, the year WGA adopted its current two-fold “Best Adapted” and “Best Original” categorizations.

While both the WGA and Academy seek to honor the finest in screenwriting in a given year, the differing imperatives of the two organizations can explain incongruities in their choices of winners. The Writers Guild of America is, of course, a labor union whose prime directive is the representation of the rights of screenwriters in the workplace. To that end, then, only films produced under the jurisdiction of the Writers Guild of America (or an affiliate Guild) are eligible for consideration for WGA Awards. The Academy does not consider the terms and conditions under which nominee films were created.

The recent harmony among WGA and Oscar-winners, then, is heartening. By awarding Oscars to screenplays that have already met the WGA’s stricter eligibility requirements, the Academy is, in effect, tacitly validating the Guild’s mission of honoring both great art and the artists who labor to create it.

“Our goal is not to provide spin for the Oscars,” says Lowell Peterson, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, East, “but to give writers the opportunity to honor other writers. We believe writers should be paid decently, and should receive the benefits negotiated by the Guild or by our sister guilds abroad. The Academy doesn’t require that writers be treated well, and sometimes non-Guild films are nominated for writing Oscars. But that is increasingly rare.”

Leave a Reply